One Life

Author(s): 
Release Date: 
November 10, 2020
Publisher/Imprint: 
Penguin Press
Pages: 
240
Reviewed by: 

“Thank you, Megan Rapinoe, for a book that is so courageously honest, thought-provoking, informative, and inspiring. The fact that our youth can look to you as a role model inspires hope for the future.”

Soccer juggernaut Megan Rapinoe, with the able assistance of author and New York Times contributor Emma Brockes, has written a handbook on how to be a world class social justice advocate. A treasured household name to anyone familiar with women’s soccer, Rapinoe uses her platform to add her voice to the intersectional struggle for equal pay for women, for full equality for members of the queer community, and for the end of systemic racism. In One Life, Rapinoe skillfully weaves together her soccer career from youth sports to the 2019 World Cup championship game at which she earned the Golden Boot Award, with her growing dedication to advocacy.

Soccer fans who read One Life for the extraordinary sports drama it provides will also find themselves exposed to what it means to come out gay in the world of professional sports, the frustrations of women players who are often treated as amateurs and paid accordingly, and the examples of systemic racism that are finally being recognized through the efforts of the Black Lives Matter protestors. Rapinoe is a role model for every youth who agonizes over their sexual or gender identity or dreams of making it big in professional sports. More than that, she is a role model for every adult who recognizes the need for social justice, especially those who don’t quite know how to get started.

From the opening words of One Life’s introduction, “I was on the team bus driving through the suburbs of Chicago when I picked up a call from my agent,” the reader is pulled into the world of soccer. The parents who chauffeured their children to and from practices and games and the players themselves will immediately be drawn into Rapinoe’s story. But it is the reason for the agent’s call that sets the tone of this important memoir. Concerned because prior to a game earlier that evening, the Rapinoe had taken a knee during the playing of the national anthem, the agent says, “This is blowing up.”

One Life isn’t only a sports story recounting the challenges Rapinoe faced as she grew into an international dynamo on the field. The larger tension grows out of her advocacy work, with sports as a backdrop. The first well-known white athlete to follow Colin Kaepernick’s lead, she was stunned when her commitment to social justice upset so many. Fans turned away, one so angry that he declared he would burn his shirt. Blog posts called for her to be fired. She became a talking point on Fox News. The US Soccer Federation tried to stop her, saying they expected players to stand. Eventually, she paid a dear price for her outspoken support of Black Lives Matter; she was benched.

Rapinoe, who came out publicly as gay in 2012 when she was 27 years old, explains her insistence on kneeling, saying, “Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties.” By sharing her story, Rapinoe provides a history of the anti-racism movement, making it accessible to those who haven’t yet read the impressive books published in the last few years that delve more deeply into systemic racism.

In a few succinct sentences, Rapinoe describes how much of our nation’s history reflects a conscious intention to keep power in the hands of a small minority of white men. She explains that our schoolbooks don’t cover major instances of violence perpetrated upon Black people, that people of color were systematically excluded from the benefits of the New Deal and the GI Bill, that the Federal Housing Administration supported “redlining” by refusing to insure mortgages in Black neighborhoods.

Rapinoe’s book is a guide to social activism using sports as a backdrop. It moves seamlessly between philosophy, history, and ethics on the one hand, and how she became the world’s best soccer player on the other. This is not just a book for soccer enthusiasts, nor is it only about equal rights. One Life is a book about deciding to make a difference. In Rapinoe’s words: “Real change lies within all of us. It is in the choices we make every day. It’s in how we talk, who we hire, and what we permit others to say in our presence . . . At its simplest, it’s in whether we’re willing to spend even five minutes a day thinking about how we can make the world better.”

Thank you, Megan Rapinoe, for a book that is so courageously honest, thought-provoking, informative, and inspiring. The fact that our youth can look to you as a role model inspires hope for the future.